Saturday, 13 February 2016

Sing a Song of Sixpence



I forgot to mention my traditional birthday present to myself. In my post about the "Keats Walk", Sixpence a Pint, I mentioned the letter Keats wrote to his publisher while staying in Winchester, in which he says "there is on one side of the city a dry chalky down where the air is worth sixpence a pint". Without doubt, I would say, that dry, chalky down is Twyford Down, in those days still joined by a neck of land to St. Catherine's Hill.

So, being a sentimental sort, I bought myself a George III silver sixpence on Ebay, minted in 1818, the year before the famous walk through the water-meadows.  Who knows? This very coin may have jingled in the immortal pocket.  It's certainly been in and out of a few Christmas puddings and bride's shoes in the meantime, too.  Maybe I should give it a wash.

This talk of poets, letters, and sixpences reminds me of an old post from 2008, which I may as well revive here. If you have ever sat a literature exam, it may amuse you. Or possibly induce a panic attack. You may turn over your papers NOW:

"When I try to put all into a phrase I say 'Man can embody truth but he cannot know it' ... The abstract is not life and everywhere draws out its contradictions. You can refute Hegel but not the Saint or the Song of Sixpence."
W. B. Yeats, in his last letter, 4th January 1939.

Questions (Time: 3 hours. Use one side of the paper only):

1. In your two penn'orth, was Yeats quite the full shilling?
2. By "the Saint", does Yeats mean the popular 1960s TV drama starring Roger Moore? No? Are you sure?
3. Discuss the impact of decimalisation on The Song of Sixpence. Please show your working.
4. Can you refute Hegel?
5. Can a woman know truth but not embody it? Are men thereby always and inevitably wrong?
6. Draw a contradiction.

7 comments:

amolitor said...

I may have to take a crack at this, but for now I wish to compliment you on #6.

Mike C. said...

Yes, on the assumption three answers are required (hmm, should have put that in the rubric), I think I'd have gone for 6 and 2, then dithered for 20 mins, finally picking 4, to which the only honest answer is "no".

Mike

Richard Parkin said...

This talk of silver sixpences in Christmas Puddings is waaay above my experience. We used to get silver thruppenny bits in our puddings. This was in the 1940-50s though I never saw one in general circulation.

Mike C. said...

Richard,

Well, me too -- as you can probably work out, I was born in 1954, and a regular sixpence was slipped into the kids' portions. Real silver sixpences did use to turn up in ordinary circulation, though -- Mum used to work in a shoe shop, and would bring me home any interesting coins from the till. My prize find was a William III sixpence dated 1697!

Mike

Richard Parkin said...

Me too again. Grandad (and his father before him etc) was a greengrocer in Soho and we always thought he probably took the silver thruppenies there. Silver sixpences were still in circulation then I think. As you can probably work out, I'm circa 20 years older than you - you were just starting kindergarten I was a student at Soton University.

Mike C. said...

Richard,

I'm pretty sure that makes you the most senior reader of this blog, unless anyone wants to dispute that claim!

The university will have changed a lot since your day (it's changed a lot since I began work there in 1984). What did you study?

Mike

Richard Parkin said...

Zoology. There were about 1500 students then. Lived in Connaught Hall, Swaythling - there was just the original suare of buildings which I know has now been almost swallowed by further development.